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The Race Against Californication

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This week's feature about CSU geographer and public lands guru Dave Theobald arrives just as the Colorado Conservation Trust releases its third annual progress report on the state's struggle to preserve its working farms and ranches, scenic and natural areas, and dwindling wildlife. And what a struggle it is.

The report, which can be downloaded in its entirety here manages to be upbeat and depressing at the same time. On one hand, Colorado is one of only two states in the West where more land has been conserved than developed. Thanks largely to local efforts, open space is now being protected at a faster rate (170,353 acres a year over the past two years) than land that is being converted to development. But the Front Range, energy-producing counties and mountain towns are still experiencing massive pressure from population growth — in the last two years, 180,000 new residents arrived in the state, equivalent to the combined populations of Boulder and Greeley — and Colorado is losing its agricultural land at a pace that far exceeds that of any other state in the country, thanks to exurban development and big-city water deals.

What can be done about this? Maybe the National Land Conservation Conference, 2100 conservation experts gathering at the Adams Mark Hotel today through Saturday, can figure it out; more information on the conference is available here. In some ways, Colorado has come up with fresh ideas (such as its conservation easement tax credit program) that are a model for the rest of the country. Let's hope land-use planners can also learn from our mistakes, and from what Theobald has discovered while mapping our future. – Alan Prendergast

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